Category Archive: Times of Israel

Two new Holocaust films depict tiny, true details to portray life under Nazis

The minutiae often omitted from the record is the focus of ‘Who Will Write Our History?,’ about Warsaw Ghetto’s Oyneg Shabes Archive, and ‘The Invisibles,’ both debuting this month

NEW YORK — I’ve never much cared for the phrase “The Chosen People.” It just strikes me as a little braggy. My preferred nickname has always been “People of the Book.” It sounds serious and studious, and lends itself to the type of interpretation you might find — with lengthy footnotes — in a very important book.

I’d like to think that early 20th century Polish-Jewish historian Emanuel Ringelblum had this double-meaning in mind when he first implored his colleagues, likewise trapped in the Warsaw Ghetto, to “get everything down on paper.” But as the remarkable film “Who Will Write Our History” shows, levity wasn’t exactly his top priority.

“No one appointed him,” historian Samuel D. Kassow says in this mesmerizing film that is half-documentary/half-reenactment. He just did it.

Ringelblum was working at the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the last remaining infrastructure for the enormous Jewish community in Warsaw prior to and during the time of the ghetto. There he was able to collect grand scale information concerning the movements of people, but also smaller stories of individual indignities that could easily slip through the cracks. Combined they form the true picture of Nazi atrocities and institutionalized anti-Semitism.

“Who Will Write Our History?” is an unusual movie. It is based on Kassow’s 2007 book of the same name, but director Roberta Grossman (and producer Nancy Spielberg, younger sister to Steven) mix talking head interviews, historical footage and “scenes” with actors, sets and high stakes drama. It’s not easy to thread this type of formalist needle, but Grossman maintains a level of urgency that is (and I hate describing movies about the Holocaust this way) quite entertaining. Ringelblum assembling his team is almost like a Shoah “Ocean’s 11.”

The Oyneg Shabes gatherings were somewhere between a a typical newsroom’s edit meetings and an emergency vigil. The Jewish community was shattering into pieces all around them, and they were furiously trying to put it back together again, just long enough to preserve a copy. When assignments were turned in they went to an archive, and while there were over 60 members of the group, very few knew where the materials were actually kept. (They can’t torture out information you don’t know.)

The importance of this material is evident. Without it, almost everything recorded about the Warsaw Ghetto came from the top down. German cameramen took German pictures. Propaganda films (included in this movie) positioned the Nazis as saviors to a Polish populace infested with conniving, thieving, dirty, lice-ridden Jews.

The materials collected for the archive are reports direct from beneath the boot of German abuse, and recorded in real time.

What sticks with me are the details. A snapshot of women forced to remove their underwear to use as rags to clean the street, then told to put them back on in the freezing cold is something that can only come from a witness, and it’s the type of thing that could, over time, dissolve into a more generic description (“they were terrible to us”) by someone who is trying to forget. Also shocking, was listening to the written reactions to the first reports of mass murders happening in camps outside the city.

Julia Lewenfisz-Gorka, Wojciech Zielinski, and Marta Ormaniec portraying Ora, Abraham and Luba Lewin in a Ghetto street scene. (Anna Wloch/ Courtesy)

There is also raw, true emotion of the kind that maybe seems like a hiccup in the overall narrative, such as the Jewish anger against the Jewish police who enforced German rules, even with a gun pointed at their head. The sequences in this film set during the mass deportation come in a fury; it is the 1940s version of “live blogging,” a camera-eye depiction from the middle of a nightmare.

There are also moments of reflection, even poetry. “It’s like a Hollywood movie out there, all you see are stars,” one journalist mused in reference to the Star of David armbands Jews were forced to wear.

One of Ringelblum’s aces was Rachel Auerbach, who would later hold a key position at Yad Vashem. She worked in the ghetto soup kitchen, where dilemmas such as “nourish one starving person enough that they might survive, or stretch the meager rations among 10 to string dying people along for another half-day?” were commonplace.

The firsthand specificity from the archive makes seemingly obvious points that, unless you lived through it, you might not think about. As an example, Ringleblum was lucky enough to live in the area that eventually became the ghetto. As such, he did not have to move — and was able to use his residence as a home base. People who came in from elsewhere in the city, or from the countryside, were frequently not given enough time to collect things of value. With nothing to sell for food, they were often the first to die.

Actor Jowita Budnik portrays Rachel Auerbach working at a soup kitchen. (Anna Wloch/ Courtesy)

That this movie exists at all is something of a miracle. All but three of the Oyneg Shabes group were killed, and only two knew where to look for the materials. The first cache was found in the Warsaw rubble right after the war. The second in 1950.

There’s a third still out there somewhere, believed to be under the Chinese Embassy. You’d think the Polish government would figure out the logistics to look for it, especially considering that the film ends with a card stating that only three document collections from Poland are in UNESCO’s Memory of the World collection: the music of Chopin, the scientific work of Copernicus and the Oyneg Shabes Archive.

Interestingly enough, the same month “Who Will Write Our History” makes its US debut (and also at New York’s Quad Cinemas), there’s another film with similar themes and technique. Claus Räfle’s “The Invisibles” moves from Warsaw to Berlin, to detail the lives of four individuals who hid in plain sight during the entirety of the war.

It’s another example of how individuals are easily overwhelmed by outside forces. There are plenty of Germans who want to help their Jewish neighbors, but each have different breaking points for the amount of risk they can take.

A still from Claus Räfle’s ‘The Invisibles.’ (Courtesy)

One clever Jew uses a list of apartments known to have spare rooms for young men about to get “called up.” He bounces from place to place until he can find something more secure. On the other side of this, a woman with safe shelter stays as long as she can until her host is discovered by the agency that assigns rooms for those that have been bombed-out. After this she ends up a servant in a Nazi officer’s home, never quite sure if he knows her true identity.

Unfortunately, Räfle’s film lacks the focus of Grossman’s (and is extremely repetitive) but is most interesting, again, when it gets into the minutiae of just how someone could survive the war in a city that Joseph Goebbels boasted was finally Judenrein.

A still from Claus Räfle’s ‘The Invisibles.’ (Courtesy)

One woman, Hanni Levy, found safe houses when she could, but much of the time she did something so obvious it sounds like a joke. She just … walked around. For months at a time, with dyed blonde hair and no yellow star on her clothing, she roamed the Berlin streets, ducked into movie theaters, stayed in parks, kept her head down and maintained hope.

Levi is still with us at age 94, and living in Germany. So for her, at least, hope and luck somehow were enough. Neither “The Invisibles” nor “Who Will Write Our History” are naive enough to suggest that, most people would find such a miracle.

“Who Will Write Our History” will be screening in these North American, European and Israeli cinemas starting January 18. “The Invisibles” will show at New York City’s Quad Cinemas and Landmark 57 West, and at Los Angeles’ Royal starting January 25.

War hero or Nazi collaborator? Family partners with victim’s kin to expose truth

Vilnius trial will see whether Jonas Noreika was whitewashed by Lithuania’s Genocide and Resistance Research Center; his granddaughter says he did his best to help Nazis kill Jews

Left to right: Grant Gochin (Courtesy); Accused Nazi collaborator Jonas Noreika (Courtesy); and granddaughter Silvia Foti (Ina Budryte/via JTA)

Left to right: Grant Gochin (Courtesy); Accused Nazi collaborator Jonas Noreika (Courtesy); and granddaughter Silvia Foti (Ina Budryte/via JTA)

LONDON — Seventy years after he was shot by the Soviets, the reputation of Jonas Noreika goes on trial in Lithuania next week.

Noreika — a hero to many in the Baltic state for resisting the Communists’ subjugation of their country — stands accused of being a Nazi collaborator who was complicit in the Holocaust.

It has been brought by Grant Gochin, a Lithuanian citizen living in the US, whose relatives were among Noreika’s victims.

But in an extraordinary twist, Gochin’s effort is being actively supported by Noreika’s granddaughter. Silvia Foti has spent more than two decades investigating “General Storm,” as her grandfather is known to many in his former homeland. Her conclusion is brutal: “Jonas Noreika willingly played a role in cleansing Lithuania of Jews. He did everything in his power to help the Nazis kill Jews, and nothing to stop them.”

Foti, a Chicago high school teacher who is soon due to publish a book about Noreika, has submitted a letter to the court stating that her independent research corroborates material gathered for Gochin’s lawsuit. Lithuanian academics have spent 850 hours reviewing 20,000 pages of historical documents.

Grant Gochin is pursuing a case against a Lithuanian state entity tasked with researching and educating about genocide and war crimes. (Courtesy)

Gochin praises Foti as “a woman of incredible bravery and dignity who understands that reconciliation can only come from a place of truth, and that truth must be told.”

“Her stepping forward means everything to me because her independent research validates all of my research, it shows that people that believe in truth and justice can cooperatively work towards a better future,” Gochin says.

“Her integrity restores my faith in humanity. I hope one day, Lithuania will recognize her as a true Lithuanian hero,” he adds.

Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, invaded in 1941 by the Germans, and then annexed by Josef Stalin after the advancing Red Army swept through the country in 1944. The country’s independence was not restored until the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly 50 years later.

“General Storm’s” supposed heroic status rests on his effort to organize postwar resistance to the Soviets while working as a lawyer at Vilnius’s Academy of Sciences. Arrested and tortured by the KGB, he nonetheless led the defense of 11 fellow anti-Soviet rebels. He was executed at the age of 37 in 1947.

But this narrative obscures a darker side to Noreika’s story, who was a member of Lithuania’s nationalist underground. It initially viewed the Germans as liberators, timed an uprising against the Soviets to coincide with their arrival, and falsely hoped they would restore the autonomy snuffed out by Stalin the previous year.

Indeed, even before the German occupation, local paramilitary groups initiated pogroms against Jews. Most of Lithuania’s Jews were murdered by December 1941 — a month before the Wannsee Conference commenced the Final Solution — with a significant role played by Lithuanian auxiliary forces.

Over two hundred thousand Jews, an estimated 96 percent of Lithuania’s Jewish population, died in the Holocaust — the highest percentage of any country in Europe.

Aftermath of the Kovno, Lithuania (or Kaunas) ‘garage’ massacre in June of 1941, perpetrated by pro-German Lithuanians (public domain)

Noreika led the nationalist uprising in Žemaitija and then became a county administrator in the northwestern part of the country after the German invasion. On his watch, an estimated 14,500 Jews are believed to have been murdered in Plungė, Telšiai, and across the Šiauliai district. While he may not have killed Jews personally, Noreika signed directives in the summer of 1941 which ordered Jews to be sent to ghettos and outlined how their property should be distributed. His family benefited directly from the plunder, moving into a house in Plungė seized from its Jewish owners.

Gochin’s lawsuit charges that the Genocide and Resistance Research Center, which was established in 1992 to study the country’s experience of Nazi and Soviet occupation, has intentionally distorted Noreika’s role in the murder of Jews and persists in portraying him as a national hero. Its actions are, it is claimed, tantamount to Holocaust denial, which is a crime in Lithuania.

Noreika’s memory is honored by street names, memorials and an inscribed stone block on a central Vilnius street. A village school in his hometown is also named after him. In 2015, a petition signed by prominent Lithuanian politicians, historians and writers called upon the government to remove a plaque from the Vilnius Library of the Academy of Sciences Building. The Genocide and Resistance Research Center reportedly denounced the move as Russian-inspired and said it was “assisted by some Jews.” Critics in turn accuse the Center of being “a bastion of far-right extremism that, in the opinion of many, does grave damage to the image of modern democratic Lithuania.”

Last year, Lithuanian Jewish community leaders joined calls for the plaque to be removed. “Noreika collaborated with the Nazi regime and contributed to the persecution of Lithuanian Jews, and this person can in no way be portrayed as a Lithuanian hero,” they said in a statement.

“We believe the Lithuanian people, now celebrating 100 years of statehood, are mature enough to accept the whole of historical facts and the state is capable of accepting responsibility for this public display of disrespect to historical truth,” read the statement.

Main entrance to the Ghetto of Vilnius in Lithuania, during WWII (Wikimedia Commons – public domain)

The Center refused a request to comment on the case from The Times of Israel.

An obsession rooted in a family tree

Gochin’s interest in Norieka was sparked when he began genealogical research in the 1980s.

“Virtually every branch of my family ended in 1941 in Lithuania as a result of Holocaust murders. My family came from one region in Lithuania, I researched who murdered them. All roads led to Noreika,” he recalls.

At first Gochin, who was born in South Africa and serves as the Special Envoy for Diaspora Affairs for the African Union, believed that Noreika had been honored by the Lithuanian government in error.

“It took me a long time to recognize that honoring Holocaust perpetrators was a deliberate inversion of their history,” he says.

Gochin has detailed his campaign to expose and counter Lithuania’s alleged Holocaust revisionism in a series of blogs for The Times of Israel.

Accused Nazi collaborator, ‘General Storm’ Jonas Noreika (Courtesy)

Der Spiegel magazine had written about Norieka’s complicity in the 1980s, and some of his documents had been known since the 1970s. Over the past six years, others have attempted to bring the truth about Noreika’s wartime record to light.

Last year, Gochin commissionedLithuanian Holocaust experts Andrius Kulikauskas and Evaldas Balčiūnas to investigate Noreika’s crimes. Their 40-page report was rejected by the Genocide and Resistance Research Center which went on to accuse Gochin of “possibly violating the Republic of Lithuania’s Constitution and the Republic of Lithuania’s Criminal Code.”

Although confident of the historical facts, Gochin is nonetheless doubtful about the independence of the Lithuanian courts, which he believes tend to favor the position of the state.

“I brought this case because appealing for honesty about the Holocaust from the Lithuanian government has proven to be futile,” says Gochin. “It is clear to me that the only means to accomplish truth is via an independent, impartial, honest legal process, without government influence — this process will only be available in European courts. This case is a stepping stone to get the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.”

Gochin holds out little hope for the case which begins next week — it is presided over by a judge who, he says, has twice ruled against him using technicalities on other Noreika lawsuits — and plans to appeal any unfavorable decisions until he can get out of the Lithuanian courts and into the European courts.

The European Court of Human Rights enforces the European Convention on Human Rights which has been ratified by almost all European countries.

Gochin does not blame individual Lithuanians, saying they have been fed lies about the past by their government.

The Ninth Fort in Kaunas, Lithuania, which came to be known as the 'Fort of Death' during World War II, when it served for the murder of over 10,000 Jews by Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators.

The Ninth Fort in Kaunas, Lithuania, which came to be known as the ‘Fort of Death’ during World War II, when it served for the murder of over 10,000 Jews by Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators. (Shutterstock)

“These frauds are all the population knows, and having someone tell them that the national narrative is a fraudulent construct is disconcerting and not credible to them,” he argues. “They therefore, understandably, resist the facts. The government is unable to now admit the extent and deliberateness of their Holocaust frauds, so they decline to address facts. They cannot reject the case as the evidence is clear and overwhelming, so they continue on their path of distortion and aversion.”

‘It took me years to get psychologically ready to confront this’

Sylvia Foti (Courtesy)

Foti, however, shares Gochin’s determination that the truth will out. The two have been in contact since last year, when she informed him that, while most of his research was complete, he had missed many thousands of her grandfather’s victims.

Like Gochin, her involvement in the Lithuania lawsuit stems from researching her family history. As she originally detailed in a piece for Salon magazine last summer, Foti promised nearly 20 years ago that she would complete the biography of Norieka that her dying mother had been working on.

“I thought I would be writing about a hero because that is all I ever heard about him,” she suggests today.

But, on a visit in 2000 with her brother to the school named after Norieka in his birthplace, she was confronted with the first indication of a dark family secret. The headteacher let slip to his guests that he had “got a lot of grief” for deciding to name the school after an accused “Jew-killer.”

“My first reaction was disbelief and denial, that was just Communist propaganda,” Foti recalls.

Illustrative: A boy playing soccer at the entrance to the former concentration camp known as the Seventh Fort in Kaunas, Lithuania, July 12, 2016. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

“It took me years to get psychologically ready to confront this, as I was terrified of discovering that he was involved in killing Jews, so I delayed my investigation into the rumor,” she says.

Eventually, however, she began to uncover compelling evidence of her grandfather’s anti-Semitism. A book he had written in 1933 called “Raise Your Head Lithuanian” was, Foti says, “a rant against Jews, calling upon Lithuanians to boycott all Jewish businesses.” This and other facts deeply implicated him in the Holocaust.

Foti worked on her research during school holidays. In the summer of 2013, for instance, she spent seven weeks in Lithuania interviewing relatives, taking a Holocaust tour, and poring over documents from the period.

She also visited the Genocide Museum (recently renamed the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fighters) and interviewed its director.

“I found it odd that the Genocide Museum based its opinion of my grandfather solely from the KGB transcripts, which did not delve into his tenure as district chief of Šiauliai, but rather his rebellion against the Communists in 1945-46,” she argues. “The Genocide Museum discounted the documents my grandfather signed as district chief of Šiauliai during the Nazi occupation.”

In her piece for Salon, Foti also described how she hired a Holocaust guide who described to her how her grandfather, as a captain, taught his Lithuanian soldiers “how to exterminate Jews efficiently: how to sequester them, march them into the woods, force them to dig their own graves and shove them into pits after shooting them. My grandfather was a master educator.”

Illustrative: The Jewish cemetery in Šiauliai, Lithuania. (screen capture: Google Street View)

“General Storm, as he is known, is a legend,” Foti suggests. “However, incredibly, Lithuania has been largely unaware of his willful role in the Holocaust. The reasons are psychologically and historically complicated, and it has taken me nearly two decades of research to figure it out.”

“As his granddaughter, it pains me to come to this conclusion,” she argues. “But it took me many years of grappling with denial. So, in this regard, I understand how difficult it is for Lithuanians to accept this. All we have heard is that we were the victims, caught between the Communists and the Nazis. For me, changing the narrative has changed my very identity. I have had to come to terms that I am the granddaughter of a perpetrator who has had his crimes covered up by the Lithuanian government.”

‘Changing the narrative has changed my very identity’

Foti recognizes that she and Gochin have become “unlikely partners — the granddaughter of a Holocaust perpetrator and the descendant of Holocaust victims.” The pair are, she believes, “on a mission to introduce truth to our ancestors’ homeland.”

“This is not the first time our families’ paths have converged: our independent research has shown that my grandfather was instrumental in the murder of Gochin’s Lithuanian relatives,” she adds.

But, Foti defiantly concludes, “The shame of my family is the national shame. I will not participate in insulting the Holocaust victims further by tolerating lies about my grandfather and his horrific actions. Deliberately distorting history brings added shame to Lithuania.”

Germany returns Nazi-looted painting to heirs of Jewish French resistance leader

Portrait belonging to family of Georges Mandel is among 1,500 found in possession of Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of a Nazi-era art dealer

The painting 'Portrait of a Seated Young Woman' by Thomas Couture stands on a easel during a restitution ceremony to the heirs of Jewish French politician Georges Mandel in Berlin on January 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

The painting ‘Portrait of a Seated Young Woman’ by Thomas Couture stands on a easel during a restitution ceremony to the heirs of Jewish French politician Georges Mandel in Berlin on January 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

BERLIN — Germany on Tuesday returned a painting looted by the Nazis to the heirs of French Jewish politician and resistance leader Georges Mandel.

The portrait of a seated woman by 19th century French painter Thomas Couture had been on display in a spectacular collection hoarded by Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of a Nazi-era art dealer.

Experts determined two years ago that the painting had been looted from Mandel, relying on a small hole in the canvas as evidence of its provenance.

Mandel’s lover had cited the hole above the seated woman’s torso when she reported the painting stolen after the war.

Gruetters was joined in the ceremony by a representative of the Kunstmuseum Bern, which inherited Gurlitt’s collection when he died in 2014, and an envoy from the French embassy.

Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media Monika Gruetters, right, overhands the painting ‘Portrait of a Seated Young Woman’ by Thomas Couture to Franz Rainer Wolfgang Joachim Kleinertz, left, and Maria de las Mercedes Estrada, second from left, heirs of Jewish French politician Georges Mandel, during a restitution ceremony in Berlin,on January 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

About 450 pieces from the collection by masters such as Monet, Gauguin, Renoir, and Picasso have been on display in Bern, the western German city of Bonn, and in Berlin.

Gruetters called the Couture painting’s return “a moving conclusion to the exhibitions of the Gurlitt trove” and underlined Berlin’s commitment to provenance research.

“We have Georges Mandel’s family to thank that we could show this work in all three exhibitions,” she said.

Georges Bonnet, left, the French Foreign Minister, left, and Georges Mandel, Colonial Minister, leaves the cabinet council at the Elysee in Paris, on April 12, 1939. (AP Photo)

“In this way, we could inform the public about the fate of the Jewish politician Georges Mandel, who was persecuted and imprisoned by the Nazis.”

More than 1,500 works were discovered in 2012 in the possession of Munich pensioner Cornelius Gurlitt.

His father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, had worked as an art dealer for the Nazis since 1938.

The discovery of the stash made headlines around the world and revived an emotional debate about how thoroughly post-war Germany had dealt with art plundered by the Nazi regime.

When Gurlitt died, the Berlin museum accepted the collection, though it left about 500 works in Germany for a government task force to research their often murky origins.

But determining their provenance has been slow, and it is still not clear how many of the works were stolen.

The Couture portrait was the fifth work from the collection returned to heirs, and the sixth definitively classed as having been looted by the Nazis.

Australian neo-Nazis deface elderly care facility housing Holocaust survivors

Watchdog group says swastikas in Melbourne are latest anti-Semitic incident in growing ‘blitz of intimidation and fear’ targeting Jewish community

The swastika logo of Antipodean Resistance found on the front gates of Emmy Monash Aged Care in south-east Melbourne, Australia on January 2019. (Anti-Defamation Commission)

The swastika logo of Antipodean Resistance found on the front gates of Emmy Monash Aged Care in south-east Melbourne, Australia on January 2019. (Anti-Defamation Commission)

An Australian neo-Nazi group defaced an elderly care facility that homes Holocaust survivors, the latest incident in a rash of anti-Semitic vandalism targeting Melbourne’s Jewish community.

Stickers bearing the logo of homegrown hate group Antipodean Resistance were discovered plastered on the entrance to the Emmy Monash Aged Care facility, located in a heavily Jewish suburb of Caulfield, southeast of Melbourne.

“I saw it stuck to the front gates. I just stood there and looked — it knocked me about,” Seigel told Australia’s Herald Sun newspaper on Friday. “You don’t expect to see those sorts of things, especially at an aged-care residence.”

He said that many of the residents at the Emmy Monash facility were Holocaust survivors, and they would be “horrified” to learn of the Nazi symbol was daubed on the outside gates.
Chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission Dr. Dvir Abramovich condemned the vandalism as “cowardly and evil.”

“We are appalled by this latest attack, made all the more despicable as there are Holocaust survivors living in this aged-care home who lost family relatives and suffered under Hitler’s regime,” Abramovich said in a statement.

Abramovich said the vandalism at Emmy Monash was part of a “blitz of intimidation and fear” by Antipodean Resistance which has been escalating its activities over the last year.

The statement from the ADC noted another incident of anti-Semitic vandalism in southeast Melbourne this week. A billboard advertising a production of the musical Les Miserables in the suburb of St. Kilda was defaced with the words: “Are Jews.. religious…or criminals?”

Anti-Semitic graffiti discovered on an advertisement for an upcoming production of Les Misérables in Melbourne’s St. Kilda neighborhood in January 2019. (Anti-Defamation Commission)

Australia has seen the largest single-year increase of anti-Semitic attacks in 2018, the ADC said, and there was “mounting concerns” about the rise in anti-Jewish sentiment in the country.

Antipodean Resistance was formed in Melbourne in 2016 to promote hatred and violence, mainly against Jews and the LGBT community. In recent months, the group has attracted attention for its anti-Semitic vandalism that has been spotted in major Australian cities.

Antipodean Resistance twice last year targeted New South Wales lawmaker Mike Kelly, whose wife is Jewish. In February the group hung a poster outside his office calling to “reject Jewish poison,” and in September, Antipodean Resistance mailed him pig entrails.

Holocaust survivors less healthy but outlive their peers by 7 years, study finds

Israeli researchers attribute ‘paradoxical’ findings to genetics and to resilience as a result of experiencing Nazi atrocities

Illustrative: Dozens of Jewish Holocaust survivors wear Tefilin and the Tallit prayer shawl as they participate in a group bar-mitzvah ceremony, normally done at the age of 13, on May 2, 2016, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)

Illustrative: Dozens of Jewish Holocaust survivors wear Tefilin and the Tallit prayer shawl as they participate in a group bar-mitzvah ceremony, normally done at the age of 13, on May 2, 2016, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)

Holocaust survivors in Israel outlive their peers by an average of seven years despite suffering from poorer overall health, according to a new Israeli study.

Lead researcher Dr. Gideon Cohen attributed the unexpected longevity among survivors to a combination of a genetic predisposition that helped them survive the Holocaust and certain resilience characteristics they developed as a result of experiencing Nazi atrocities. The study led by Cohen was published in the journal JAMA Network Open on Friday.

Those born in Europe who later immigrated to Israel were identified as “Holocaust survivors” for the purposes of the study, and included Jews who fled the Nazis, those placed in ghettos, as well as Jews who were sent to camps.

All of the participants in the study that spanned from 1998-2017 were insured by Maccabi Healthcare Services, one of Israel’s major health insurance providers with more than 2 million members. The researchers said they made adjustments for the participants’ sex, socio-economic status and body mass index.

Tova Ringer, a 93-year-old Holocaust survivor, wins the “Miss Holocaust Survivor” beauty pageant in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, on October 14, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The researchers found that the Holocaust survivors suffered overall higher rates of chronic diseases — including cancer, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, heart attacks, obesity, chronic kidney disease and dementia — than the general population.

Some 83 percent of the Holocaust survivors involved in the study suffered from hypertension, compared with 66.7% of non-survivors. Another comparison found that 30.9% of survivors suffered from chronic kidney disease, while only 19.8% of the general population had the condition.

However, the data also revealed that Holocaust survivors in Israel lived to an average 84.8 years-old — over seven years longer than their peers who did not experience the Holocaust in some way, who have an average life expectancy of 77.7 years.

The researchers called their findings “paradoxical,” noting the extensive medical research linking chronic disease to lower life expectancy.

Cohen’s team suggested that survivors possessed a kind of “Darwinist ability to survive” — an inherent genetic resilience that helped them escape the Holocaust — which contributed to their overall longevity.

Holocaust survivors dance during a weekly social meeting at the Cafe Europa community and culture center in Ramat Gan, Israel, a day before Israel begins it annual Holocaust Memorial Day, Tuesday, April 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Researchers also suggested that as a result of the traumas they endured, Holocaust survivors developed better health literacy, and were more likely to seek pre-emptive medical treatment than their peers.

The team pointed to a 2016 study that found Holocaust survivors in Israel were twice as likely as non-survivors to consider “maintaining good health” as a coping strategy toward ensuring “the best possible life.”

How Hitler’s ‘fake news’ assault on America came perilously close to succeeding

In ‘Hitler’s American Friends,’ historian Bradley W. Hart reveals the extent to which US citizens aided, abetted, and otherwise supported Nazi Germany

Pro-Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden, New York City, in 1939 (public domain)

Pro-Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden, New York City, in 1939 (public domain)

Not only was president Franklin Roosevelt a war monger and closeted Jew, his real name was Rosenfeld. The war in Poland and Russia was entirely the fault of England, and the American press was bent on bringing the country into war against peaceful Germany. These allegations, according to a new book titled “Hitler’s American Friends,” were some of the key German propaganda messages spread by Nazi spies in the US during the late 1930s and into World War II.

Written by Bradley W. Hart and published in October, the book details Hitler’s “classic disinformation campaign” against the US, along with incidents of “outright espionage.”

Hitler was aware of support for National Socialism in the US, and this was the basis for his campaign. An alliance with America was unlikely, but German agents could — at the very least — work to confuse the American public about their government, the press, and other democratic institutions. Throughout the 1930s, Nazi spies operated on Capitol Hill, from church pulpits, and in front of massive crowds at rallies.

In 1937, Congress was compelled to enact the Foreign Agents Registration Act because so many Nazi spies had been caught seeking “to subvert the American democratic system,” wrote Hart. The foresight of the act’s authors helped ensure the American public wasn’t fed pro-Nazi “fake news” during the first two years of Germany’s “war of annihilation” in Europe, before Hitler declared war on the US after Pearl Harbor.

Screen capture from video showing American Nazis attacking Jewish protester Isador Greenbaum during a German American Bund rally at Madison Square Garden, February 1939. (YouTube/Field of Vision – A Night at the Garden)

“The American political system survived a series of major existential threats at a moment when the fate of the free world hung in the balance,” wrote Hart, a professor at California State University. With what he describes as “courageous” stands taken by American leaders, “Hitler’s friends never stood much of a chance,” he wrote.

‘Seemingly normal Americans’

“Hitler’s American Friends” opens with celebrity pilot Charles Lindbergh delivering an anti-Jewish speech in September of 1941. Blaming Germany’s Jews for Europe’s latest war, Lindbergh also found fault with his fellow American citizens of Jewish origin.


“Instead of agitating for war, the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way for they will be among the first to feel its consequences,” said Lindbergh. The Jews’ “greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.”

According to Hart’s book, Lindbergh was “the man who had come [closest] to uniting the American far right” in forming an alliance with Nazi Germany. As such, the pilot’s speech made headlines around the nation.

However, most of Hitler’s American allies were found among the masses. A leading pro-Nazi fascist movement in the US, the Silver Legion, boasted 15,000 members, modeling itself on Mussolini’s Brown Shirts in Italy. In sum, a hundred men and women were eventually convicted of spying for the Nazis, and six “saboteurs” were executed.

Among the American public at large, a 1941 Fortune magazine poll revealed that 13 million Americans would not mind deporting Jews from the country — under humane conditions, of course. Few Americans, however, supported the murder of all Jewish men, women, and children, which US newspapers confirmed was taking place in Europe by the end of 1941.

Author Bradley W. Hart (author)

More mainstream than the Silver Legion was the German American Bund, a network of 25,000 pro-Nazi activists. The Bund established training camps and strongholds throughout the country, and its leaders insisted that Roosevelt was Jewish. The group pioneered the merging of Nazi German symbols with American ones, including portraits of George Washington.

Although Congress and public opinion saw to the dismantlement of most pro-Nazi organizations, it should not be assumed that support for Nazism itself was dismantled, said Hart.

“One of the more disturbing things I realized writing this book was that the people who were members of anti-Semitic groups like the German American Bund or the Silver Legion didn’t just disappear in 1945,” Hart told The Times of Israel.

“Most of them probably lived for decades as seemingly normal Americans, but we don’t really know much about what they taught their children or talked about at home in those later years,” he said.

Flirting with Nazism?

When Hart began work on “Hitler’s American Friends” in 2014, some people he told about the project said it sounded obscure and unlikely to succeed as a book. Current events, however, had something else to say.

“Once [President Donald] Trump emerged and the far right started coming out of the woodwork again, the connections to contemporary politics became much more obvious,” said Hart in an interview with The Times of Israel.

Hart noted that Trump has deployed tactics that echo back to the pro-Nazi “America First” movement. A modern iteration of the Roosevelt/Rosenfeld rumor was the co-called “birther” campaign against president Barack Obama, a movement that was ignited by then-citizen Trump.

In this August 11, 2017, photo, multiple white nationalist groups march with torches through the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Mykal McEldowney/The Indianapolis Star via AP)

For Hart, last year’s “Unite the Right” gathering in Charlottesville, Virginia, was eerily reminiscent of the country’s repressed, pro-Nazi past. The torches, the marching, and the blending of white supremacist symbols with American imagery were pioneered eight decades ago, before most Americans understood the threat Hitler posed.

“It was really a strange experience to be researching these groups and individuals from the 1930s when suddenly there were people in contemporary America using terms like ‘America First’ and flags with swastikas being carried in the streets of Charlottesville,” said Hart.

During the 1930s, supporters of Nazism did anything but stay in the closet. There were marches on Main Streets around the country and frequent incitement against Jews, blacks, and other minorities. Today, much of this organizing still takes place, but on different platforms, said Hart.

In this October 29, 2018, photo, a makeshift memorial stands outside the Tree of Life synagogue in the aftermath of a deadly shooting in Pittsburgh. (AP/Matt Rourke)

“The internet has sadly created an environment where radicalism can flourish without much oversight and few social or professional consequences for those who are spreading hate anonymously,” said Hart. “We only need to look at Robert Bowers, the Pittsburgh synagogue gunman, to see an example of a person who self-radicalized on the darker corners of the web and turned that into real-world violence.”

According to Hart, some contemporary politicians — including Trump — are reluctant to denounce hate speech with vigor or consistency. Part of their motivation for failing to do so, said Hart, is that “they see an electoral advantage in keeping these extremists politically engaged and on their side,” he said.

“I certainly do not think American conservatives are deliberately flirting with Nazism, but I do think it’s important that both parties actively consider the supporters they are attracting and cultivating, and what that means for their respective parties’ futures,” said Hart.

Memorial to Greek Jews sent to death camps by Nazis vandalized

Commemorative marble slab in Kastoria found covered in black spray paint, weeks after memorial in Thessaloniki vandalized for fourth time this year

An illustrative photo of a Holocaust memorial in the northern Greek city of Kastoria. (CC BY-SA 3.0, David Shai, Wikipedia)

An illustrative photo of a Holocaust memorial in the northern Greek city of Kastoria. (CC BY-SA 3.0, David Shai, Wikipedia)

JTA — A memorial to the Jews of a Greek town who were sent to Auschwitz by the Nazis was vandalized.

The Memorial to the Jewish Martyrs of Kastoria, in the northern region of West Macedonia, was covered with black spray-paint on Tuesday, the state-run news agency ANA-MPA reported.

Local volunteers reportedly helped to clean the memorial.

The World Jewish Congress called for authorities to crack down on vandalism of Holocaust memorials.
Earlier this month, a Holocaust memorial in Thessaloniki was daubed with a swastika, the fourth time this year the object was vandalized.

At the time, the Israeli Embassy in Greece issued a condemnation of that incident.

“Turning Jews into scapegoats for events that they have absolutely no responsibility for is the absolute expression of anti-Semitism,” it said in a statement. “Such incidents by extreme nationalist circles must be condemned by all and the aggressors must finally be led before justice.”

A woman puts a rose as she protests against the desecration of the Holocaust memorial in Thessaloniki on July 4, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Sakis MITROLIDIS)

The attacks have been attributed to far-right supporters, including those from neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, which has been represented in Greece’s parliament since 2012, and consistently ranks as the third most popular movement in opinion polls.

After conquering Greece in 1941, Nazi Germany deported to extermination camps some 50,000 Jews from Thessaloniki, which at the time was one of the main centers of Judaism in the Balkans.

Anti-Semitism remains prevalent in Greece. Historically there has also been strong support for the Palestinian cause.


Bestselling ‘Tattooist of Auschwitz’ love story blurs facts, experts allege

Magazine published by memorial center at site of Nazi death camp points to several inaccuracies in novel; author defends book as recollection, not history

Holocaust survivor Bracha Ghilai, 75, shows her tattooed arm at her house in Holon near Tel Aviv, Israel, Jan. 23, 2005. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

Holocaust survivor Bracha Ghilai, 75, shows her tattooed arm at her house in Holon near Tel Aviv, Israel, Jan. 23, 2005. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

The author of a bestselling book about an unlikely love story in the Auschwitz death camp has come under fire for what a historian at the memorial museum for the former Nazi site says are inaccuracies in the story.

Heather Morris, author of “The Tattooist of Auschwitz,” has defended the book by saying it is not meant to be an exhaustive history but rather the recollections of one man who survived the camp.

It has risen in the best-seller lists in the US, UK and Australia and has been optioned to be made into a television series.

In an article fact checking the story, though, Wanda Witeck-Malicka of Poland’s Auschwitz Memorial Research Center, which administers the site of the former death camp, wrote that the book “contains numerous errors and information inconsistent with the facts; as well as overinterpretations, misinterpretations and understatements on which the overall inauthentic picture of the camp reality is built.”

“The Tattooist of Auschwitz”

Among the issues Witeck-Malicka raises about the historical accuracy of the book are routes which the train carrying Sokolov to Auschwitz took, the fact that the number that Gita had tattooed on her arm received does not correspond to when she says she arrived at the camp, the use of a bus as a gas chamber, and Sokolov and other prisoners being told to return to Birkenau without an escort after being taken out of the camp for work duty.

She also casts doubt over the possibility of a long-term sexual relationship between an SS commander at the camp and a Jewish prisoner.

Paweł Sawicki, editor of the center’s Memoria magazine, which published the critique, said they wanted to check into the story after a number of visitors asked about it.

“The further we got into the details, the more surprised we were to discover how [many] historical mistakes – small and big – about the reality of Auschwitz were there,” he told The Guardian.

At Auschwitz-Birkenau in May of 1944, Hungarian Jews arrived in cattle cars and prepared for the SS-conducted ‘selection’ (Auschwitz Album)

Questions have also been raised about a passage in which Sokolov takes Penicillin to Furman, which would not have been available at the time. The Sokolovs’ son Gary told the New York Times it bothered him that Morris spelled his father’s name Lale and not Lali, as he went by, though he praised the book for bringing the story to life.

“The fact that my dad, so many decades later, can have such a positive impact on humanity is just phenomenal,” he said.

The book is officially cataloged as fiction, though it has been marketed as a true story and Morris has said it is based on interviews with Sokolov, who died at age 90 in 2006, toward the end of his life. She met Sokolov after Gita died in 2003.

Heather Morris (Courtesy)

In an email to the New York Times,which wrote last month about the discrepancy of the tattooed number assigned to Furman, Morris wrote that the book “does not claim to be an academic historical piece of nonfiction.”

“It is Lali’s story. I make mention of history and memory waltzing together and straining to part, it must be accepted after 60 years this can happen but I am confident of Lali’s telling of his story, only he could tell it and others may have a different understanding of that time but that is their understanding, I have written Lali’s,” she wrote.

A spokesperson for Morris’s publisher told the Guardian that the novel is “based on the personal recollections and experiences of one man. It is not, and has never claimed to be, an official history. If it inspires people to engage with the terrible events of the Holocaust more deeply, then it will have achieved everything that Lale himself wished for.”